Outernauts, a new Facebook game by Insomniac Games, might seem familiar to those of us who have enjoyed monster-collection games in the past. Many have called it a Pokemon clone, but after playing it for a while, that term doesn't really apply. Sure, there are plenty of monsters to collect and pit against one another, and your avatar yells out commands during combat -- just like Pokemon -- but I'd argue that monster collecting is its own game genre at this point. Outernauts attempts to do something different with it.
Outernauts' look and feel is certainly different than Pokemon, relying more on a Western style. The in-game music sounds fantastic and gives a real sense of quality to the game. There are little details that make this monster collector more enjoyable, like the ability to name all of your monsters, no time limits during fights, and the ability to move freely to each different map without spending energy.
It does cost energy to collect items from the surface of a planet, though, something that is often required to complete tasks and make progress in the game. Starting a battle costs energy as well. Your energy bar does not tick down so fast that you can't enjoy yourself, but you will find that logging out and coming back to play later (when your energy has been replenished) is the only other option besides plunking down a few dollars for a refill.
There's a nice space-travel mechanic in the game that gives you the feeling that you're actually exploring other worlds. Hovering over new areas will show you the cost of travel and the monsters that live on the planet or asteroid. If you haven't yet explored a new area, the beasts will show up as a question mark, inviting you to come figure out what they are. To move further into space, you must collect "star coordinates" that are basically collectible bits of star map. It's a simple mechanic that feels like a combination of scavenger hunting, discovery, and danger.
Combat is pretty standard, especially if you've played Pokemon-style games before. There are a few nice touches in Outernauts combat, however. The turns are not time-limited, as mentioned previously, so you can really think about what you want to do next, including switching out monsters on the fly, or reviving monsters when they're down for the count.
You can see which abilities are more effective by hovering over them, so you can choose the best ones for each battle. This is not to say that combat is easy -- it's not. Once in a while you will wind up with an unconscious creature in your arms. Outernauts does not punish you too heavily if you lose, but keep an eye on your energy levels. If you run out, you have to wait for a refill or pay to get back into the fight. I also learned that upgrading my monster's statistics, such as stamina or health, burns through Star Gems, the in-game currency. So think before clicking on anything that will make your monster more powerful.
Outernauts easily proves that it's more than just another Pokemon wannabe. It captures that "gotta catch 'em all" addictiveness of monster collecting, but under its cartoon exterior, houses a much more mature real-time strategy game than you would expect from a typical Facebook game. Outernauts resists the urge to incessantly ask you to spend money or pester your friends with requests, and the high production values make this monster battle game seem like it'd be at home on any platform, whether it's Facebook or a PlayStation 3.
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